Steroids, the pandemic, and the end of bodybuilding as we know it. What does Martin Pecko from NEBBIA think about the past and the future of fitness?

Steroids, the pandemic, and the end of bodybuilding as we know it. What does Martin Pecko from NEBBIA think about the past and the future of fitness?

06.09.2022 8 minutes

Martin Pecko has been the head of the NEBBIA fitness brand for 25 years and he has been following the bodybuilding scene for even linger. This year NEBBIA celebrates quarter of a decade and with its boos we talked about the changes in professional and amateur bodybuilding and fitness over the last years and how to fight the lack of interest of young people in bodybuilding. Read this interview with the man who brought a Slovak brand all the way to the Mr. Olympia stage.

Once in a comment on eastlabs.sk you said that bikini and physique categories saved fitness. These categories are still popular. You were right. Do you think that the big men bodybuilding is in decline?

I grew up at a time when young guys went to gym because of idols like Arnold, Lee Haney, Reg Park, or Steve Reevers. We wanted to be like them we copied their trainings and we read every article we found in magazines. This was 30, 35 years ago.

To answer the question about decline in popularity of bodybuilding, we can look at a survey of 15 to 18-year-old boys. Who sees any of the best bodybuilders as an idol? I am not saying nobody, but the percentage is extremely low. The bodies of bodybuilders are not inspiring to the young generation. Young generation makes the decision about the direction of this sport. If people stop being interested in bodybuilding, they stop going to the events, and companies like NEBBIA stop supporting it, it means it’s over.

Do you think this is happening? What will replace professional bodybuilding as we know it?

In my opinion, the end is near. People who make decisions in bodybuilding, unfortunately, contribute a lot. Officials in bodybuilding are usually around 60, their heads are in the sand, and they don’t see the problems they’re causing. They are the only ones who can do something about it. They have to understand that we can have a sport that has a positive impact on millions of people around the world, but this sport ends with the classic physique category. Arnold would also be in that category. Just look at his pictures from 1875 and compare them with today’s champions in classic physique like Chris Bumstead.

In the professional bodybuilding everyone takes steroids. What do you think about them?

I don’t judge it. Steroids are just a reflection of what people want to see. The fan is the one that wants to see better and better performances each year, not the athlete. Fans want to see runners and cyclist that are faster, hockey that is more action-packed, and they don’t understand the limits. Yes, we know more about the human body than 30 years ago, we know more about regeneration, but that isn’t enough. I am not trying to say that I approve of steroids or that I blame the fans.

For me it’s important that we don’t ignore the problem. Let’s be open and stop pretending that everything is excellent. It’s important that fans understand that every sport would be different without steroids not just bodybuilding. That is the truth we have to face.

People that have no competing ambition and exercise for fun are more important to me that the professional sport world. Unfortunately, gyms are full of people that are trying to speed up their progress by using forbidden substances. They do it willingly but they have no information about the health risks. They think it isn’t so serious and that it won’t happen to them. This is a complex topic and there isn’t one right solution. It’s like smoking. Almost the whole society si fighting against smoking. When you watch a movie made in 1960, smoking was allowed everywhere from offices to planes. Today you cannot smoke in places that were used for smoking all the time in the past. On the other hand, how much of the state’s budget is created by the taxed gained from tobacco products? It means we actually need for other to smoke. It’s very similar when we talk about steroids.

NEBBIA has a new women’s collection FEEL GOOD, LOOK GOOD, that emphasis inner peace and self-development. Do you think that this aspect is neglected in fitness?

It’s not neglected. Inner peace and self-development are becoming increasingly more relevant. Since 1991, I have worked as an instructor at gym. Do you know how many women we had there? Approximately 5%. Now around the world it’s more than 55%. What was the motivation of women for going to the gym 20 years ago? 90% were to improve their figure. Today, more than 50% of women go to the gym to feel better. This is an organic trend and it’s great. NEBBIA wants to inspire these women. We want to support them and educate them. If you look what we have done during the last year, it’s clearly visible. :)

What is the role of a fitness brand in educating fitness fans? What does NEBBIA do? In the past you stood up against racism.

At some point, a brand like NEBBIA becomes influential and it can affect other by its actions and views. NEBBIA makes hundreds of thousands of projects a year. It means that our product can be found in millions of households. Many people see our leggings or a top as just another piece of clothing in their wardrobe, but many of them are big fans. They follow us, read our blog, do our exercises online, go to our workshops or follow our ambassadors. We try to support these people in what they do, we motivate them and educate them.

As for racism or LGBT, you are either a hypocrite and you only do what doesn’t offend or anger anyone or you feel social responsibility and you stand your ground. In 2017, NEBBIA proved that it can stand its ground and we handled one of the biggest racism scandals in Slovakia ever. If something like that happens again, we will do the same even though at times it was dangerous.

Do you follow women’s fitness? What do you think about it? If I remember right the first bikini fitness contestants had only a bit of muscle mass. Now, their musculature is like that of former body fitness contestants.

I’ve been following women’s fitness since 1990. Our first dog was named after Cory Everson. Cory Everson was very inspiring and Stanka trained like her. Times of Cory Everson or Rachel McLish are gone. There is the bikini fitness category but there is a lot ambiguity when it comes to judging. Women that compete in this category often don’t know how to prepare. I am worried about what happens to this category in 5 years. I can see that its popularity is going down. Do you remember when Plevakova, Pohankova and others competed?

How have the changes in fitness and in the world affected your production?

Fitness isn’t just for big men anymore. It’s a fashion trend and fitness clothing is a way of expressing one’s lifestyle and worldview. In my opinion. fitness lifestyle means that you treat yourself responsibly. We cannot only care about ourselves, right? NEBBIA considers people who lead fitness lifestyle as extremely aware, and we know that they not only care about themselves but also about everyone’s future. That is why since 2019 we offer products made of eco-friendly materials and we increase their volume all the time. It makes happy isn’t the only one and the number of producers who prefer eco-friendly materials grows. It’s also important that customers tend to prefer these materials too.

We have been through a pandemic, there is a war going in Ukraine. How did this impacted working out and NEBBIA itself?

The pandemic affected fitness significantly. At the beginning, we were more dramatic than was needed. Now I think that it inspired people to do more sports and take care of their health. I don’t know how many people returned to their old gym. I hope and I wish that everyone has returned to their gyms. People also started to do a bigger variety of sports. If you only went to the gym, this period has shown that it is nice to go out for a run in the morning. We started biking and going to the nature again, we learnt how to exercise at home. Now, everyone is doing yoga and meditating. Maybe it would happen anyway, but the pandemic has moved us 5 to 10 years ahead. Every cloud has a silver lining.

I don’t see any positive aspects of the war in Ukraine, I just hope it will end as soon as possible.

What are the challenges for fitness in the next decades? We don’t have crystal ball but how do you imagine the future of sports and fitness?

I cannot say. I have no expectations. I’ve learnt that thinking 10 years ahead makes no sense. I am fortunate if I can make an estimate for three years. I think most of the businesses would agree. The progress is fast. As a manager I try to make our company flexible so that we can react quickly to any social changes and trends. I see the business aspect, it’s different when it comes to the collection design. Stanka is the chief designer, and she always tries to create new trends. We did it few years ago and I hope that next year we create designs that become iconic in the fitness world.


In 1997, Martin Pecko with his wife Stanka created a brand that thanks to their passion for sports became synonymous with fitness. In the brand’s portfolio, there are highly functional pieces for men and women, underwear, swimwear, eco-friendly collection made of recycled plastics and cotton. NEBBIA is the first Slovak brand that is featured on platforms like About You or Zalando. The biggest success of our brand is a 7-year exclusive partnership with fitness & bodybuilding competition Mr. Olympia or sponsorship of the top athletes from the fitness world.